The undead were diligent and not only completed a degree in interior design, but also branched out into botanics! In Part I of this tutorial we created the basic layout of the Crypt of the Damned module consisting of the rock walls, rough-hewn stone and dirt floor.
In this part we will focus on adding vegetation, such as roots, moss, mushrooms and floor and wall creepers. Once again I will provide the reasoning behind my design choices, a list of all materials needed and detailed step-by-step instructions.
Some thoughts on caves
While Skyrim is a good inspiration, it is not necessarily a very realistic rendition of a cave’s ecosystem. Unfortunately I am not an expert in this field and had to go by some web resources, common sense and the “Rule of Cool“.
First we have to consider that any green plant needs at least some light to allow photosynthesis. Thus the cave needs at least a light shaft or air shaft to allow seeds, spores and sunlight to enter. We also need a humid environment to allow the growth of moss and mushrooms. While the former dislikes direct sunlight and prefers shady, humid environments the latter does not rely on sunlight, but needs water to thrive.
Time for some reference pictures for moss:
Tree roots obviously do not need sunlight and can be a good opportunity to indicate where openings to the surface are, or where the cave ceiling got penetrated. It also makes sense that the roots would attempt to grow into the dirt floor or cling on moist walls, while changing their direction of growth when confronted with the solid rock floor.
This dictates some design choices:
- The soil may not look too dry in areas where moss or mushrooms dwell.
- In addition any plant life dependent on sunlight needs to be grouped around the openings to the surface.
- The roots – if possible – will cling to walls and grow either into soil or make their way over the rock floor to find a suitable substrate.
With these guidelines in our head onwards to the construction process!
What you need – nature finds a way
For the mushrooms:
- Thin malleable wire or alternatively steel pins for the mushroom stems.
- Any air-drying modelling putty to form the mushroom heads and cover the stems (Liquid greenstuff works well, but I don’t see any reason why the much cheaper alternative of Golden Acrylic Gels e. g. Soft, Heavy Body etc. should not do the same).
- Fast setting glue to attach the head to the stem.
- Acrylic paints. If you go for psychedelic fantasy mushrooms any colour suits. I went for more natural colours like brown and off-white. GW Agrax Earthshade comes in handy, too, or any dark brown wash for that matter.
For the roots:
- Malleable wire with different gauges to form thicker and thinner roots.
- Golden Acrylic Medium matte to cover the wire and improve adherence.
- Wood filler to cover the sealed wire and achieve a wood like surface texture.
- Brown and beige acrylic paint (can be cheap stuff) and GW Agrax Earthshade.
For weeds, moss and wall creepers:
- MiniNatur Ivy and different grass tufts. I used a selection off autumn grass tufts.
- Matte spray varnish to reduce the shine of the static grass. I use Tamiya Flat Clear.
- Brown acrylic spray paint, to slightly darken the tufts.
- Fine turf e .g. Woodland Scenics range of fine turf in dark green or any other fine turf. This is basically very finely ground coloured foam.
- Wood glue.
- Dark or medium green, yellow and beige acrylic paint. GW Agrax Earthshade.
- Brushes of various sizes to apply paint and wood glue. Old bristle brush for dry brushing.
- Sculpting tools.
- Wire cutter.
- Hand drill.
How you make it
- Cut as many pieces of wire as you need mushrooms. The wire should be slightly longer than the actual stem, so that you can drill a hole and insert the wire later on, fixing it securely to the module.
- If you use metal pins shorten them slightly, but keep the part with the pin head.
- Bend the wire slightly, so that the stem will not be absolutely straight, resulting in a more realistic appearance.
- Stick the wire in a piece of styrofoam, with the future stem section poking out.
- Cover the stem with liquid greenstuff or a comparable product.
- Using a small ball of modelling putty form the mushroom head. depending on the kind of mushroom you would like to depict this can be a flattish head, a tapering head or more like a spherical shape. Don’t forget to add some lamella on the underside of the head with a needle or sculpting tool. For the module I made three different kinds of mushrooms differing in size and shape.
- If you use a steel pin and would like to depict very small button mushrooms you can just cover the pin head with some putty and leave it at that and save yourself step eight.
- After everything has hardened glue the head on the stem.
- Painting time! Basecoat and paint your mushrooms. Any colour is possible in a fantasy universe or stick to some reference pictures if you prefer a realistic look. I used dilute paint for this step to achieve smoother transitions and finished it of with a wash of Agrax Earthshade.
- Remove the mushrooms from the styrofoam block, drill a hole where you want to place a mushroom and glue in place.
- Cut as many pieces of wire as you need roots. The wire should be slightly longer than the actual root, so that you can once again drill a hole and insert the wire later on, fixing it securely to the module.
- Just as with the mushrooms stick the wire in a block of styrofoam.
- Cover the wire with Golden Acrylic matte medium. This step is very important to assure that the other layers will adhere to the wire. The acrylic gel is slightly flexible after drying and also provides some “tooth” for the succeeding layers.
- After the acrylic medium is dry mix some wood filler with beige acrylic paint and water, just so that you achieve a consistency you can easily brush on. Given that the wood filler is white you might need more paint than you expect.
- When the filler is dry, cover with Agrax Earthshade. In my opinion that is already enough to make the roots look the part. You can apply subtle highlights here and there, but on reference pictures such roots look very pale and featureless.
- Now you can remove the roots from the styrofoam block and bend them carefully into the preferred shape. This way you can easily fit them to a wall, a floor section and so on without having to worry about getting paint on the finished parts of the module. This is also why step three is so important. Without it the wood filler will crumble away under your very hands.
- As there might be very small cracks or open ends as you have to cut the roots to length with a wire cutter, follow again steps 3 to 5 and cover these parts.
Floor creepers and moss
- Pretreat the tufts and vines with a bit of matt spray varnish and brown spray paint. Really only lightly mist them, don’t overdo it. This way we can reduce the gloss of the static grass and also dull the stark green colour a bit.
- Using wood glue or even acrylic medium glue the MiniNatur vines and tufts in place. I assumed there are two narrow light shafts and placed the vegetation only where I imagined light could hit the ground directly.
- Drybrush the tufts lightly with beige acrylic paint, just to soften the stark green colour further and take away any remaining shine.
- Mix the fine turf, green acrylic paint, wood glue and water to a paste. It needs to be sticky enough to adhere to the walls, but also easy to spread. Don’t worry if the paste looks bright green, it will darken quite a bit when the wood glue tries.
- With a toothpick (a brush is not very suitable for this kind of work) take some of the paste and apply wherever you would like to add some moss. Now spread the paste with the toothpick and press it down.
- When dry the moss is now rock hard and can be easily painted, while providing a nice moss like texture. First wash with a bit of GW Agrax Earthshade, followed by several highlights with succeedingly brighter greens up to pure yellow. Make sure your brush is actually almost dry.
We finished the basic layout and vegetation, now we need to move on to sacrificial offerings, candles, skeletons in the alcoves and urns in Part III.